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Only 1 in 5 who work can attend smear test appointments, resulting in high numbers delaying or taking annual leave

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 10:47

Only 1 in 5 who work can attend smear test appointments, resulting in high numbers delaying or taking annual leave 

  • 1 in 5 have used annual leave to attend cervical screening

  • 62% say that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off to look after their health

Worrying new research has found that only 1 in 5 full-time workers were able to get a convenient cervical screening appointment last time they tried to book. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, cautions that inability to get appointments around work is causing many to delay potentially lifesaving screening. 


Homeworking during the pandemic has made attending medical appointments harder for some (8%), however 23% say it has made it easier. As many businesses look to return to the office, the charity warns that this progress could be undone. In its survey of 1020 women and people with a cervix it sadly found many workers report using annual leave, sick leave or even unpaid leave to attend appointments with 10% saying they had used annual leave more than once to attend cervical screening.


During Gynaecological Cancer Awareness month the charity wants to highlight the roles employers can play in supporting staff to attend potentially life saving screening. 


There are many factors that can affect someone’s ability and desire to attend, including previous bad experiences or trauma. Before the pandemic, 1 in 4 women and people with a cervix did not attend cervical screening when invited and COVID has added more challenges. 


Getting a test around working hours is a significant factor, especially for those who work shifts or who travel to work. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are concerned that COVID has exacerbated this as 1 in 3 say they feel less able to take time off to attend medical appointments because of the pandemic. Reasons cited for work being a challenge include inflexible bosses, too much work, shift patterns and it being difficult to ask to attend. 


In 2018, the charity found 1 in 10 were only offered appointments they could not make. Now, 38% say that they were unable to get a convenient appointment last time they tried to book. 


The charity is launching their ‘Time to Test’ campaign, encouraging employers to play their part in raising the profile of cervical screening and cervical cancer in the workplace and empower their team to look after their cervical health. The campaign asks employers to ensure their staff can attend cervical screening in a way that is convenient for them if they can’t get appointments outside working time .


The Time to Test campaign also encourages raising awareness of cervical screening at work, after 62% said that an increase in discussion about women’s health in the workplace would make them feel more comfortable taking time off for appointments. 


Samantha Dixon, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust:

“There are many barriers to cervical screening but work is a very practical one which we can and should try to tackle.  Whilst every workplace is different, we’re calling on employers to find a way to offer their staff Time to Test, especially as we start returning to offices, we must try to avoid putting more barriers in place. It’s worrying to see so many having to take annual or sick leave to attend a routine medical appointment, which will lead to some delaying. Employers can help stop this and make cervical screening and cervical health visible and important in the workplace, so more women and people with a cervix to feel confident and informed to attend.”


Hayley Prince, Manchester, was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 32 in 2009: 

“I work in the NHS and was a single mum at the time, being so busy I found it a struggle to get an appointment at a time to suit without having to take a day’s holiday. A Saturday morning would have been brilliant but they didn’t offer them. I was a few months over my call up due to trying to get an appointment I could get to.

My treatment involved chemotherapy and internal and external radiotherapy and thankfully I got the all clear, but I dread to think what could have happened if I put it off any longer.

I feel that, being such an important screening, we should be allowed the time to attend a smear test in the same way as employers have to allow you to attend an antenatal appointment. Educating managers in the importance of a smear test and how it can potentially save your life is key.” 


Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“We fully support the Time to Test initiative, to encourage everyone who works for the RCOG to attend their cervical screening appointments. It is vital that women attend these screenings as the best protection against cervical cancer, and we want all employees to feel supported in taking time to prioritise their own health and wellbeing where needed.” 



For further comments, interviews or case studies, contact Amy Reddington on [email protected] or 07950 942 202.

Notes to editor

  • Survey of 1020 women and people with a cervix by Censuswide, between 23.08.2021 - 25.08.2021
  • For further information about Time to Test, or Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, go here
  • Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity. We are here for everyone who needs us, for as long as they need us but we won’t stop until the day that cervical cancer is no more. Cervical cancer can be devastating but we’re here to reduce the impact. We provide trustworthy information, campaign for change and provide support at every step.

About cervical screening

  • Cervical screening prevents around 75% of cancers from ever starting
  • Cervical screening identifies people who are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. It is the best protection against cervical cancer and saves thousands of lives every year
  • 5 million women and people with a cervix are invited to have cervical screening every year